|The Famous San Diego Chicken|
|Portrayed by||Ted Giannoulas|
The San Diego Chicken, also known as The Famous Chicken, the KGB Chicken or just The Chicken, is a sports mascot played by Ted Giannoulas.
The character originated as an animated TV commercial for KGB-FM Radio in San Diego. Writer, cartoonist, and actor Brian Narelle was working for Odyssey Productions and offered to animate an acrobatic chicken as part of a commercial contract bid. Narelle went on to direct and animate the commercial as well as create cartoon art for the campaign.
In March 1974, Giannoulas was hired to wear the first chicken suit. At the time he was a 20-year-old journalism major at San Diego State University. He was originally from Canada but had attended Hoover High School in San Diego. The Chicken's first appearance was a KGB promotion to distribute Easter eggs to children at the San Diego Zoo. After his first appearance, Giannoulas, a lifetime baseball fan, approached the San Diego Padres front office. "I'll bet I could get into games free in this get up," he thought. He was allowed to would wander throughout the stands at Padres games, and if someone said "Lay One On Me," the Chicken would "lay" an egg via his leggings containing a prize. He soon took to the field and, he recalled, "discovered a side of my personality I did not know existed, almost a Jekyll and Hyde thing." Once on the field, he demonstrated a remarkable ability to mime, joke with players and umpires, and connect with fans. Padres' attendance, which had been the lowest in the league, doubled that summer.
The Chicken, whose antics entertained steadily larger crowds, moved on to features at concerts and sporting events – appearing at more than 520 San Diego Padres games in a row. The Chicken also appeared at many San Diego Clippers basketball games before the team moved to Los Angeles. San Diego sports reporter Jack Murphy described him as an "embryonic Charlie Chaplin in chicken feathers".
Conflict emerged between KGB Radio and Giannoulas, and the latter was fired on May 3, 1979. Another unnamed employee was hired to don a chicken outfit at a Padres game. Fans, many of whom were aware that Giannoulas was not in the outfit, booed the chicken loudly, forcing him off the field. After a lawsuit was decided in Giannoulas's favor in June 1979 by Judge Raul Rosado, Giannoulas was allowed to continue to perform in a chicken costume, although not the same one as the original. His self-styled Famous Chicken emerged from an egg at a "Grand Hatching" seen by 47,000 people at a Padres game at Jack Murphy Stadium, as the sound system played the introduction to "Also sprach Zarathustra", the theme notably used in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Beginning in 1981, Giannoulas co-starred on the Saturday morning children's television series The Baseball Bunch, alongside noted Cincinnati Reds catcher Johnny Bench and Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda. The local Emmy Award winning series ran for five seasons and featured The Famous Chicken as the comic foil to Bench as he attempted to mentor a fictional baseball team of Little League-aged children. In his 1984 review of the show, Miami Herald sports writer, Bob Rubin praised Giannoulas' contribution to the series, writing, "The Chicken may be the most gifted physical comic since Curley, Larry and Moe."
Following an incident during an NBA game in 1991, a Chicago, Illinois jury ordered Giannoulas to pay $300,000 to a Chicago Bulls cheerleader injured when the Chicken tackled her on the basketball court.
In 1998, the owners of the Barney the Dinosaur children's character sued Giannoulas for copyright and trademark infringement, over a sketch in which the Chicken engages in a slapstick dance contest against a Barney-like character. Giannoulas prevailed in the suit and recovered his attorneys' fees, based on the court's determination that his sketch was a legitimate parody, and therefore protected speech.
The success of the Famous Chicken helped lead to mascots becoming widespread throughout professional sports, particularly Major League Baseball. The Chicken was named one of the 100 most powerful people in sports for the 20th century by The Sporting News. The pop culture publication Spy referred to Giannoulas as the Laurence Olivier of sports mascots, and The New York Times called him "perhaps the most influential mascot in sports history."
The Chicken was inducted in the Baseball Reliquary Shrine of the Eternals.
Currently, the Chicken continues to make appearances annually across the United States. As of 2015 he is reported to have made 5,100 appearances in 917 different facilities, 50 states, and eight countries, wearing out more than 100 chicken suits.
In August 2016, Giannoulas was still making appearances after 42 years playing The Chicken, albeit at a slower pace, showing up at 11 ballparks in July and August of that year. He expressed uncertainty about how long he would continue, or whether he would appoint a successor. "It's not the end," he was quoted as saying, "but I can see it from here."